Thursday, August 11, 2005

The View From Here #98: Winnipeg, MB & Saskatoon, SK

Hey! In the good news category, I am now published! If you would like to order copies of my “Tartuffe” or “Imaginary Invalid, please go to: “ Just as soon as I get some extra time, I’ll be sending announcements wide and far.

Somehow, as I get into the middle of one fringe, the previous one fades quickly from memory, like a dream that disappears if you don’t write it down as soon as you wake up. I had two shows left in Winnipeg since my last “View From Here,” but darned if I can remember how they went.

Okay, now it comes back: Thursday’s was a crowd of 20 or 30, but quiet-ish. Friday, I remember seeing an uncomfortable-looking fellow sitting off to the side, away from the bulk of the audience, wearing dark glasses. I thought, “Oh, great, it’s a reviewer from another fringe city, come to review me before I get to town in Vancouver.” He was sitting alone, with a dour look on his face, as though he would rather be anyplace else. I was tempted to kick him out. (“Come back when you’re not so predisposed to trash my show, eh?”) The rest were sitting in a group of about 15, front and center. Well, I would play the show to them.

I’d also just had a rather uncomfortable conversation with my stage manager, who had inadvertently said something disparaging about my show within my earshot. I hadn’t actually heard the comment, or had simply assumed that I had heard wrong, but he insisted on apologizing, and in the process, repeat the comment that I hadn’t heard before. We hugged and made up, but the whole process left me in a very “down” mood, when the task at hand was to get the audience “up.”

Well, all I could do was to concentrate with all of the focus I could muster, on the moment at hand. I suspect that the conflict brought out one of my best performances. The audience responded well, and even the “reviewer” came up to me after the show, almost in awe about the show, buying one of my CD’s off of me.

I loaded my equipment back up in my car (except for the flat-screen TV; I didn’t want to give anyone a reason to break into my car overnight), and ran off to meet Janice for dinner.

Janice is the woman who gave me one of my better reviews for “Moliere Than Thou” two years ago, and who recognized me in the street several days before. She’d written a review for the Uptown (weekly newspaper), but it hadn’t been printed. She was extremely sorry about that, noting that in previous years, they’ve held back some reviews until the week following the fringe with a “wrap-up” report. She brought me a copy of the review she’d written [I note that the review that was ultimately published, below, put almost all of her comments into past tense.]:

“Tim Mooney (of Moliere Than Thou fame) returned to portray five guys in a karaoke bar, each singing songs (penned by Mooney and composer Ray Lewis) revealing inner desires. Mooney demonstrated his considerable talent, acting and singing in-character and producing such memorable creations as weary, whiskey-and-cigarette-coarsened Charles and sinister stalker Sergio. The songs would greatly interest dedicated musical theatre fans because they impressively covered styles ranging from Gilbert & Sullivan to the naughty comedy of Tom Lehrer and Jimmy Buffet. The original tune Dreaming Tax is a superior, wistful song that belongs on Broadway. Unfortunately, none of this changes the fact that this rock opera is simply a long string of tunes.” (Janice Sawka)

Anyway, we had a nice dinner, and chatted about a play she was writing, and I agreed to have a look at it. She headed on to cover another play, and I went on to the beer tent.

Saturday was a packing day. I still hadn’t decided exactly what I was doing the next day. I did, in fact, have enough time whereby I could drive south to Aunt Marie’s funeral, and back up to Saskatoon over the next couple of days … and yet, I wanted to explore some new ideas in the script to try out in the Saskatoon Fringe … and I really dreaded the notion of crossing the border two more times.

I saw more shows on Saturday, and the skies opened up in a rather spectacular fashion, with a lightning storm and pouring rain. I got soaked on my way to the final party at the “King’s Head” and still had a good time, hanging with Robin, and visiting with many of the performers I’d gotten to know in a very short time. (I eventually counted my ticket stubs to find that I’d attended 15 performances at this fringe … even while performing my own show 8 times.)

The next morning, I bid goodbye to my billeter, and got onto the road … heading west … stopping only for coffee, juice or gas along the way. And as I drove, I re-envisioned my show, coming up with live narration that would lead people through a much more personal journey of the events that created the songs.

In Saskatoon, I have been ensconced in what I call the “holy grail of billets”. George and Shirley, a couple who are very active in the local theatre scene also happen to run a bed and breakfast here, and decided to open up one of their rooms to a fringe billet this year. I won that draw. In fact, they had really enjoyed my show last year, and even had one of my stickers (“I am Moliere Than Thou”) still stuck to the knife rack in their kitchen. I gave them this year’s sticker (“I’m Looking For A Groupie”) and they promptly attached it to the other side.

That night I enjoyed lolling in the spa with a glass of wine.

The next morning I was down to work: As one of the first of the theatre groups to reach town, there were plenty of open spaces available on the poster kiosks throughout town, and I couldn’t resist taking advantage. (By this time, over a week later, I suspect that 85% of my posters have been covered over, but at least I got the initial jump on the public consciousness, before the city was saturated in posters.)

I came back to rework my script, which I would do every day as the fringe approached. On Wednesday, I had my tech rehearsal, and the material was still largely unfamiliar, and it felt really dead. It was supposed to be ironic and quirky-funny, but my venue was a gymnasium, and I couldn’t see the audience from the stage, which meant I couldn’t really connect to those people. I told my technicians that I’d rather erase all that we just did and go back to do the earlier version of the show.

“No, what you’re doing is great. Don’t change it,” the technician assured me. “You just need to believe in yourself.”

He convinced me. I went back to work. I memorized the pieces that were still unfamiliar. I continued to make slight adjustments, and I reordered a bit of poetry in the script that I was introducing.

On Friday night I opened the show at a 10:30 performance.

It died. Thank goodness there were only about 15 in the audience. And no media covering the show. There were more coughs than laughs.

I was a little more forceful, this time, about the need to revert to a previous version of the show. The technicians reluctantly agreed that they would roll with it.

The next morning, I went back to my DVD collection. I wanted to find the most recent version of the show, but I realized that I now had a series of DVD discs that were largely unlabeled. I needed to label them to figure out exactly what I had. If a DVD was damaged, I’d need to know if I had a backup of that same version.

And so, I went through checking them out. I could mostly figure out which was which by the nature of the narration, which had undergone so many changes from one fringe to the next. I was looking for one which would feature my “Mississippi” accent, but the first one that I grabbed was a “straight” read, with me, mostly being myself. I realized that it was the Cincinnati version of the show, when I was under the mistaken impression that I had to get the show down to a single hour.

The more I listened to it, the more I liked it. I realized that this version had never gotten a bad review. This was before I’d introduced the idea of the karaoke contest, and there were lots of tightening issues with the disc, with some of the interludes running on about 15 seconds longer than I’d like, or with spaces between the interludes and the original music.

But most important, there were three fewer songs in this version of the show. I had made the hard decisions already, when bringing the show from Orlando to Cincinnati. I had cut all of the songs that had given the audience enough time for their attention to drift. Mostly they were the songs that could not be identified as having anything to do with karaoke, and as such, had no contribution to the imagined plot, or thematic context.

It was a sudden liberating discovery. Rather than jumping backwards one step from the previous, I could jump back three, and really reinvigorate the show. It was a classic case of improvement via reduction, or addition by subtraction, or moving forwards by going back. I went out to see more shows on Saturday, confident that I had found my solution. Some of the best shows I’ve seen here in Saskatoon include “Bonhoeffer,” “Between Takeoff and Landing” and “Gloomology,” all shows that I meant to see in Winnipeg, but missed, and all three performed by really nice guys I’d met along the way.

Sunday night was the performance of the new old show, and it went great. This version of the show simply doesn’t have a bad song, or a rambling minute of time. Even the voiceover is tighter, even though there’s less character to it. A decision for the near future will be whether I want to reintroduce the notion of a karaoke “contest” which is now not happening.

I note that this version of the show doesn’t “save” the better songs for the end. While I’ve been trying to end on a high note, I think I’ve found myself losing some interest early on. In this version (2.0), my very first song incorporates a volunteer from the audience. While my fear had been that this was too sudden, and unfair to the volunteer, I realize now that this early aggressive choice actually kept the audience off balance from the start, and alerted them to pay attention.

Still no sign of a reviewer in attendance, and the next show was 6:30 on Monday.

It was perhaps the most bizarre performance I’ve ever done.

Twenty minutes before the play was to start, I popped the DVD into the player, and where there was usually narration, now there was an odd, watery sound, like someone drawing their finger through a puddle … only not that specific. The karaoke numbers came up and worked just fine. The backing music seemed to play just fine. But none of the voiceovers seemed to work.

What to do? I didn’t have a back-up disc of this version of the play. But this was the version that the technicians had scripts for. And, really, I didn’t want to pull out the more recent discs, now that I’d fallen back in love with the earlier version. I remembered that I’d had the idea that I might, in the future, go to a “live read” of the narration sections, enabling the audience to identify better with myself as the performer, while raising the bar on the accomplishment of performing the entire show live. I tested it out, reading a speech in the “hole” that had been carved out of the DVD. The timing was just about perfect. The karaoke number came up just as I was finishing the speech. I knew that other narration bits would not be so easy, particularly as I had to change clothes and catch my breath while this was going on, but I figured with a little bit of explanation, the audience would be forgiving for bits of speeches that might get cut off for lack of time. Meanwhile, the technicians set me up with a special microphone back where my clothing rack was, and where I’d placed a music stand with my text.

We opened the house, and I proceeded with the karaoke warm up. It was a friendly audience, including the cast of “As You Like It,” led by a local director I’d gotten to know in the past two years. His cast was mostly recent high school graduates (his students). After a song or two, I explained what was going on. That there had been a bit of a disaster with the DVD, and that I’d be doing a live read whereas there was normally a voiceover.

I saw looks of suspicion on their faces. “No, this is not one of those meta-theatrical bits where we pretend there’s a disaster and later it turns out that it’s all a hoax. The disc really isn’t working, and we just found that out about twenty minutes ago.”

I started the show, and I must admit, I really do love this kind of a challenge. It’s like a free pass to try new things and an unimaginably high challenge to rise to. No matter what, it would all be over in about an hour, and I figured the crisis would give me enough adrenaline to make the thing fly for an hour.

I do the first song and so far so good. The audience is very responsive. I’m getting almost all of the narration in.

Suddenly, coming out of the karaoke interlude, the second song doesn’t play. Uh-oh. I go over to the dvd player and, yes, the seconds are ticking off, but no sound is coming out. I hit the skip button, and music comes up for the next song. “We’ll come back to that one!” I shout out. “First, we’re going to go to Larry!” The audience cheers the sudden change in direction, while I wonder how I’m ever going to “go back” to that song.

Larry, with his ballet moves, is a hit with the audience, as is Sergio, as he ties up the woman in the third row, and “Tim” with “Looking for a Groupie.”

Things seem well back on track with successful performances of “Dreaming Tax” and “Bite My Tongue.” The volunteer for “Bite My Tongue” is the adorable star of “As You Like It,” and she’s perfect in the Lolita-ish role of the partner in “Bite My Tongue.” (The best partner for “Bite My Tongue” is probably uncomfortably young, shorter than me, so that I can sing over her head, and a little bit buxom. It helps if she can dance, too. This girl fit that description. Plus, she had a half-dozen friends in the audience cheering her on.)

There is a little two-second glitch when the music for “Next” doesn’t come up, and I say “Oh no!” into the microphone, and I wonder if that’s simply a pause in this version of the DVD, or if the sound man at the back has popped in the CD of the show that he has from the very first version I rehearsed and performed.

And then, the next song doesn’t come up at all. In fact, it sounds like some disco/techno rhythm track. I look back at the sound technician. “That isn’t the next song!” I call out, assuming that he’s taken over the audio function already. “I’m not playing anything!” he calls back.

At this point I realize that the DVD is a total loss. I apologize to the audience, and pop the DVD out. I put in Version 3.0, which is still sitting there at hand.

Same problem! The narration isn’t playing at all! I apologize once more, and the audience, by this time, is vocal in their response. “No! You’re doing great!” I tell them that we’re going to take a 60 second intermission to get this figured out, and I run back to the booth area. The technician still has the audio discs that he used for the first Saskatoon version of the show. I point to the disc that he should play, and run back to the stage. I explain that we’re going to fast forward to songs that we haven’t done quite yet, and work our way through the remainder of the show that way. “Sorry, no more fancy-schmancy DVD today.” For the moment, the TV screen looks like a very expensive paperweight.

I resume with “Roy or John or Chris,” and as I perform, I’m doing the math in my head.

Neither DVD had worked. Which means that the problem wasn’t the DVD itself. The problem was the DVD player.

This is actually good news. If the DVD disc was busted, I didn’t have a backup for that one. But a DVD player could be cleaned, or replaced. I took heart at the fact that this would be a one-time adventure … at least until the next adventure arose.

The remainder of the show featured me calling to the audio technician: “No, not that one, we’ve done that one. Yeah, that one … hang on.” And I would go and get the costume for that character and proceed, largely ignoring any narration.

The last couple of songs actually had narration built into the CD, and so the audience sat through a minute of odd stuff, referencing a karaoke contest that I just wasn’t doing anymore. At one point I directed the technician to the song that we had to bypass on the DVD way back at the top of the show (which just feels all wrong so far toward the ending), and then continued on to the final number.

I finish up the play, walk off, and come back to resounding applause. The show has gone extremely well, even though everyone knows it’s been a disaster. I find myself wondering if a reviewer was in attendance (still no review in the papers), and if there was one, I wonder what they could possibly report about the show.

I find myself wondering if I should follow through on my plans to do the narration as a “live read” but to sell it to the audience as a disaster in the making. Hmmmm …

I hear back from my teacher friend, who is glad his students have witnessed a living example of “The show must go on.” Of course, the show NOT going on was never even a consideration in my head.

The next day, I threw a party back at my billet’s house. Or I should say around their pool. I realize that I have the best billet ever, and keeping it to myself would be really bad for my fringe karma. Also, George and Shirley seem delighted to get to know theatre people, regardless, and it would be a great opportunity for everybody to relax and enjoy themselves. And so, the cast of “The Big Funk” comes by, as well as “Torched”, “Girl’s Guide,” “Hooray for Speech Therapy,” and “Jewish Princess Diaries.” All but “Big Funk” are one-person shows, so the place isn’t nearly as crowded as it sounds. We swim, we barbeque, we drink beer, and enjoy. I have the night off from performing, so when things break up, I go see another show: “Drag Queens On Trial:” Very funny. I pop in to see “Between Takeoff and Landing” while I am at it. (Also excellent.)

That night, about 30 of the actors descend on the “Rock Star Karaoke” event at Roxy’s (a live band playing for karaoke singers). I put in to sing “You Really Got Me Now,” and the audience is so into it that I even allow myself to jump up and down a bit, having fun rocking out with the song.

Wednesday I’ve got another show. This one’s a 4:30 performance, and I’m not expecting Big Attendance. There’s about 20 in the audience, and about 90% of them seem to be actors, so I’m not really making any money here.

The DVD player has been cleaned, and is working again.

The great thing about having performers in the audience is that they really enjoy the audience participation bits, and the show really rocks.

Afterwards, one of the actors from “Drag Queens on Trial” comes up to buy a copy of the CD, and I have a firm impression of who has drawn my name in the “Parody Night at the Fringe” event (which is tonight). Two nights ago, we drew lots to see who would do 3-minute parodies of whose show at this event set for tonight at midnight. Since then, all three of the Drag Queens have been in attendance, and one picked up the soundtrack, so it should be interesting to see what they do with my show. (My guess is that they’ll perform to a piece of music which is less than three minutes, which would likely limit them to “Bite My Tongue.”)

I, however, am parodying “Everything Falls Apart and More,” and my only chance to catch it is immediately after my show. I sit there, taking notes, and run back to the billet to put together a sketch.

And, here it is, Thursday at the Fringe. I’ve got two shows remaining: Saturday and Sunday, but no sign of a review in the paper.

Well, there are just some things we can’t control, and this is one of them.

Other good news: The Vancouver Fringe has apparently switched the shows of my previous venue to another venue, the Arts Club Theatre, which is apparently the favorite spot to see shows on Granville Island, with 450 seats. Filling 450 seats has never been an option for any of my venues, nor have I ever had 450 seats available. While I dread the possibility of having 20 people spread across such a vast auditorium, I note that anything more than 10% of that house would be a profit for me.

And once the View From Here is out, I turn my attention to the Vancouver press releases, rewrites for the next generation of “Karaoke Knights” and e-mails to Boulder/Denver area theatres. Perhaps during the Boulder Fringe (when I’ve got 5 days off at one point), I’ll chase down more bookings for the fall tour.


Temperature: 18 degrees C
Miles on the Vibe: 145,000
In the CD Player: “Another Day on Earth”
Discoveries: The audience member that I assume is predisposed to dislike my show may just be the most enthusiastic one in the group. * Sometimes the “worst” thing that could happen before a show may well set me up to have the best possible show. * Sometimes trying to rewrite the show to suit the needs of a dozen critics only leads me away from what I’d envisioned in the first place. * Sometimes you can add to the show by subtraction. * Aggressive choices early on keep the audience off their balance. Don’t save all the best stuff for last. * A “live read” of the play would actually work, and could perhaps be sold as a “disaster in the making.” * Keeping good fortune to yourself is bad for your fringe karma.
Attendance: 35 + 20 + 20 + 40 + 30 + 20 = 165
Next performances: Saskatoon, August 13: 2:30, Aug 14: 6:30 & Boulder, August 19: 8:00 p.m.